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A remarkable squatter fight

Stockton, 1856
Stockton, 1856
A.D.O. Browere

A remarkable squatter fight took place at Waterloo some eight miles north of Stockton on November 9, 1861 after a man named Drullard bought land covered under a supposed Mexican land grant. However John Balkwell squatted on part of that land, claiming that the grant had been rejected and he had pre-emption rights. Here he built a house but after hearing that Drullard was preparing to forcibly drive him off he sent his wife and family to her father’s place about a mile away and began to fortify his new home. He reinforced the walls, cut firing ports to command every approach, laid in supplies and water for a long siege and settled back in defiance, armed with two rifles, four shotguns, a revolver and an ax.

Meanwhile Drullard had found an old nine pounder cannon and with his friends hauled it to within what they thought to be a safe range of Balkwell. At sunrise they fired four cannon shots at the house but, as they had no cannon balls, they had loaded their weapon with bullets, spikes, broken chain and old iron. Of the four shots they fired three fell short and the fourth sailed over the roof. Balkwell answered with a lofty rifle shot that cut off the finger of one attacker.

After hearing the terrible noise of the cannon from her father’s house Mrs. Balkwell rushed to the aid of her husband, running the whole way. She came near to breaking through the attackers and reaching her husband but was caught and forcibly removed from the line of fire. Undaunted the valiant woman attempted to wrest a pistol away from one attacker and use it to shoot her husband’s assailants. About this time Deputy Sheriff Choate arrived, took possession of the cannon and stopped the fight. He soon arrested Drullard and his party and marched them away to answer charges of riot. Balkwell remained in possession of his home and it was generally felt that had his wife reached him before the law arrived he would have left her in charge of their house and personally attacked Drullard and his friends.

John Putnam is the author of hard driving historical fiction from the California gold rush. See his website at